OAKLAND, Calif. — When a team has trouble scoring runs like the Red Sox do, the smallest mistakes can’t be overcome. It happened again on Friday night.
Andrew Miller hit two batters in the eighth inning and it cost him as the Oakland Athletics broke a tie to beat the Sox, 4-3, before a crowd of 28,602.
The Sox are 11-16 in one-run games.
“Story of our season,” left fielder Jonny Gomes said. “Every little hiccup that we have going on that week that we used to be able to hide now gets exposed.”
Miller (2-5) got one out in the inning before hitting Kyle Blanks and Alberto Callaspo with pitches. The first was a slider that he held too long and hit Blanks in the back foot. The second came on a fastball.
“Just can’t afford to hit those two guys in that part of the lineup,” Miller said.
Miller struck out Nick Punto for the second out and got to 2-and-2 with Coco Crisp. But a fastball away was punched into right field for a single. Blanks does not run well but beat the throw from Brock Holt, which was up the third base line.
“In hindsight, wrong pitch,” said Miller, who could have gone with a slider. “It was away, it wasn’t down enough.”
Oakland has the best record in baseball at 46-28 and the best offense in the American League by a long stretch. But despite pitching fairly well, the Sox have lost the first two games of the series.
The Red Sox were held to six hits — none over the final four innings — and did not score after the third inning. Four Oakland relievers combined on five shutout innings, striking out eight. Fernando Abad (2-2) was the winner, with Sean Doolittle getting his 10th save.
At 34-40, the Red Sox have the third-worst record in the American League. Friday was the 10th time in 12 games they were held to three or fewer runs.
The Sox have lost 14 of their last 19 games against the Athletics.
The Red Sox came into the game having scored 11 runs in their previous six games while hitting .194. So three runs in four innings against Oakland starter Brad Mills seemed like fireworks.
Mills was a fill-in for the Athletics, who needed a starter when Drew Pomeranz broke his right hand punching a chair after a poor outing on Monday night. Mills was starting for Triple A Nashville in the Milwaukee organization when Oakland obtained him for $1 the next day.
Mills, a 29-year-old lefthander, had not pitched in the majors since 2012 but he struck out the side in the first inning.
The remaining three innings didn’t go so well for Mills as he threw 71 pitches and gave up three runs to blow a 3-0 lead.
Mike Napoli singled to start the second inning before Gomes walked and Stephen Drew reached on an error to load the bases. Oakland should have been out of the inning, but second baseman Punto threw wildly to second base trying to start a double play.
Jackie Bradley Jr. capitalized on the error with a two-run single to center field. The hit gave Bradley a .293 batting average (17 of 58) with runners in scoring position. He is hitting .174 (27 of 155) otherwise.
The Sox had a chance for more when Holt lined a pitch to the gap in right field. Craig Gentry made a diving catch for the second out then doubled Drew off second base to end the inning.
As the game went on, the importance of that play became magnified.
The Sox tied the game in the third inning. Xander Bogaerts drew a walk, moved up on a groundout and scored on a single by David Ortiz. Napoli followed with a single, but A.J. Pierzynski grounded into his 11th double play of the season.
The Sox left two runners on in the fourth inning as Mills escaped further damage.
Facing deposed Oakland closer Jim Johnson in the fifth inning, the Sox threatened again. Pedroia and Ortiz started the inning with singles. Ortiz went the other way against the shift into left field and Pedroia could have gone to third base. But he stopped at second base, a rare mental error.
Johnson stuck out Napoli and Pierzynski before Gomes, left in to bat against the righthander, drew a walk to load the bases. Drew was next, and he swung at the first pitch and grounded to shortstop.
Oakland’s next reliever, Ryan Cook, retired all six batters he faced.
Felix Doubront was activated off the disabled list to make his first start in the majors for the Red Sox since May 20. The lefthander was said to have a shoulder strain, but a 5.12 earned run average and lack of consistency were bigger problems.
The first inning was a disaster as Doubront allowed three runs and threw 28 pitches.
Gentry led off with a single before Jed Lowrie grounded sharply to second. It should have been a double play, but Pedroia dropped the ball before getting the out at second and Lowrie beat the throw to first from Drew.
Doubront pitched carefully to Yoenis Cespedes, walking him on six pitches. Josh Donaldson then homered over the out-of-town scoreboard in left field and Oakland had a 3-0 lead.
Doubront did not allow another run or hit, going 4⅔ innings. He walked four, struck out four and hit a batter. Doubront stranded two runners in the third inning and two more in the fourth.
“Felix came out and gave us what he could tonight,” Farrell said.
Doubront said his shoulder felt fine and he was relatively pleased with the performance.
“Pretty good,” he said. “After that first inning I came back and threw well. I threw all my pitches.”
When Donaldson walked with two outs in the fifth inning, Doubront was taken out after 90 pitches. Burke Badenhop came in and got Norris on a line drive to third base as Bogaerts made a nice play.
Badenhop got through the sixth inning aided by a diving catch from Holt in right field.
Badenhop stayed in for the seventh inning and struck out Crisp. Lowrie and Cespedes singled before Donaldson grounded to second. What again should have been a double play was not as Pedroia’s feed to shortstop was slow and Donaldson beat the throw.
With runners on the corners, Miller came in and got Stephen Vogt on a line drive to left field as Gomes made the play running in.
Badenhop has gone 27 appearances and 31⅓ innings without allowing an earned run. He has given up only 21 hits and seven walks in that stretch while striking out 18.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.